Abu Dhabi to build Guggenheim Museum

Abu Dhabi, with the New York-based Guggenheim Foundation, is to establish a world-class museum devoted to modern and contemporary art. Having signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the museum is to be called the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (GAD), and will be designed by internationally-acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, will position the emirate as a leading international cultural destination.

At 30,000 square metres, the Abu Dhabi museum will be the only Guggenheim museum in the region and will be larger than any existing Guggenheim worldwide. It is expected that the museum will be constructed within five years.

The museum will form its own major collection of contemporary art and will also exhibit masterworks from the Guggenheim Foundation’s global collections. The museum will be built in the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island - a natural island lying 500 metres offshore the UAE capital which is being transformed into an international tourism destination. The Cultural District will also be home to a national museum, classical art museum, maritime museum, performing arts centre and an expansive arts centre park.

‘Today’s signing represents the determination of the Abu Dhabi Government to create a world-class cultural destination for its residents and visitors,’ said HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and member of the Executive Council. ‘It also demonstrates the commitment of UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to demonstrably establish this emirate as a quality destination of international standing, one capable of achieving and maintaining relationships with the very highest calibre of global partners.

‘This is a major step forward in our plans for Saadiyat Island and its Cultural District which will become an international cultural hub for the Middle East on par with the best in the world. The signing also represents a significant development in the creation and nurturing of international cultural ties which we believe will do much to forge greater understanding between all nations.’


Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim Foundation, said the signing reflects the visionary spirit and forward-looking approach that are the Guggenheim’s hallmarks.

‘Our commitment to international communication and global cultural exchange - realised through our museums, collections, and programmes - is inclusive. The Guggenheim implicitly regards all contemporary cultures and their traditions as potential partners in the field of aesthetic discourse - we are both respectful of difference and excited by it.

We also believe that the Middle East is one of the world’s most important emerging regions in terms of contemporary culture.

‘In Abu Dhabi,’ Krens continued, ‘we have had the good fortune to discover a partner that not only shares our point of view, but expands upon it. The plans for Saadiyat Island and the cultural district, envisioned and developed by the Abu Dhabi Government, are, quite simply, extraordinary. When this comprehensive and inclusive vision is realised, it will set a standard for global culture that will resonate for decades to come.’

William Mack, Chairman of the Guggenheim Foundation, led a delegation of Guggenheim trustees to Abu Dhabi for the project launch. He said: ‘It is with a keen sense of historical precedent and with an abiding commitment to cultural exchange as a bridge to international understanding that the Guggenheim Foundation enters into this agreement to establish a Guggenheim museum in Abu Dhabi.

‘I congratulate the Government of Abu Dhabi for its foresight in the redevelopment of Saadiyat Island and for its realisation that art and culture have a central role to play in enhancing international relations and understanding, and in encouraging greater educational initiatives locally, regionally and internationally.’

According to the MOU, Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), which manages the authority’s tourism assets, will own the museum. The Guggenheim Foundation will establish and manage the museum’s programme, which will include collection development, exhibitions and educational initiatives.

The MOU was signed on behalf of Abu Dhabi by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and TDIC, and Thomas Krens.

‘Abu Dhabi’s museum will join a highly exclusive Guggenheim museum network which currently includes New York, Venice in Italy, Bilbao in Spain, Berlin in Germany and Las Vegas,’ said HH Sheikh Sultan. ‘The MOU is testimony to Abu Dhabi’s ambition to become an upscale destination and to ensure that the Abu Dhabi name resonates worldwide.’

His Highness Sheikh Sultan, who is also Chairman of Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority, also signed an agreement appointing the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry to design the museum. Gehry is the architect of the celebrated Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

‘When the museum, made of titanium, glass and limestone, opened in 1997 it was instantly hailed as the most important building of its time,’ explained HH Sheikh Sultan. ‘Just as Bilbao established a new level of design excellence, Gehry’s GAD design brief is to push the boundaries of his own architectural practice and set the benchmark for museums in the 21st century.’

Architectural distinction will be a defining feature for all of the major new structures which will comprise Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District.

‘We are currently in negotiations with other world-class international cultural institutions and anticipate making further announcements on the Cultural District’s outstanding projects in the months to come,’ said Mubarak Al Muhairi, Director General, ADTA and Managing Director TDIC.

‘Cultural tourism is an important component of our redevelopment plan. The power of the arts to attract an international audience is borne out by the fact that with its global locations, the Guggenheim has seen its worldwide attendance triple over the past 15 years. It now welcomes more than 2.5 million visitors annually, making it one of the world’s most visited museums.’

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